The entire contents of Hidden Glen Farms, the residence of Anita and Irvin Schorsch will be auctioned those days and exhibited starting January 13th. Uniquely, the objects will be exhibited in faux rooms as they were held in their home and the catalog uniquely represents that - the objects are shown in-situ as they had been carefully placed. Anita and Irvin were married over 60 years and passed away within a year of each other after a lifetime of collecting and scholarship. It is with a very heavy heart that I talk about this collection as I feel so fortunate to have known them both.
|Two wonderful embroideries on the walls, as well as some personal work on the stand. (Photo courtesy of Sotheby's)
Now really, if you home is really a museum and you get a call saying "can I bring over some strangers tomorrow morning?" - what do you expect? Well, the gracious character of Irvin and Anita was to invite us in, show us the entire house, ohhh and ahhh over the coif with extreme interest and not only that - but treat us to a period lunch of turtle soup on objects I would never dream of touching much less sitting on and using. To me this was heaven.
You had to experience this couple to understand. Anita was so fascinated by the collections they were amassing that she went back to school and got her PhD. She wrote six books on objects, the most notable is the volume on mourning embroideries, a particular love of hers. Despite her age, it was hard to keep up with her and her flashlight running around the darkened house looking at details in embroideries and asking my opinion and more likely giving me her ideas and opinions from years of study. I really understood better who they were during lunch, when they pointed out the spinning wheel in the corner and how Anita had taught their three boys to spin wool from their sheep. They were just as interested in the how and why as in the value of the object. Their fascination with American History was deep - incredibly deep - and went way beyond living in a beautiful embellished home. Their collections had nothing to do with the thing that sometimes drives amazing collections - there wasn't pride, ego and competition involved, but instead deep acedemic interest. I immediately admired that greatly.
Our visit lasted a few hours and there was just so much to behold and I so wanted to open every casket and spend hours with each piece of embroidery - but one doesn't ask! You allow the owners to show you what they want to and listen with open ears as they have soooo much to teach you. I learned a great deal that day and much of what Anita said and showed me in her Dutch room sent me down new paths of research that I am grateful for. It was a day of visual splendor and a memory that I will always cherish.
But little did I know that our paths would cross more. Within the year, I got an email from one of her sons. He knew his mother was fascinated by my reproduction threads for the Plimoth Jacket and he though that she would love some for her birthday - to be given to her at a family retreat they all would gather at. I packaged up a special grouping with lace spangles and some articles I also knew she would enjoy. I heard back that Anita was delighted and grabbed a microphone at the dinner and regaled the family of 24 the entire story about how we had brought this jacket to life. Again, we were able to share moments during the Plimoth Jacket opening at Winterthur and then a big surprise when Anita, an embroiderer herself (she worked chair seats with the wool her sons had spun), wanted to learn to make stumpwork to understand her collection better.
A extremely fun weekend was had at another collector friend of mine in the area who hosted the weekend. Anita, my friend and Linda Eaton (Winterthur) worked the Stumpwork Lion piece. It was a fantastic time - not only working in period surroundings - but the discussions were all academic over the needle. And then in the evening, Irvin and the host joined us in candlelight where we discussed Irvin's fascination with George Washington and how one might use modern scientific methods to authenticate a sealed lock of hair before he would purchase it for his memorial museum (They had founded one).
|An amazing collection of American samplers in a nook. (Photo courtesy of Sotheby's)
Sotheby's has asked me to be one of several scholars who will speak on the collection on January 18th at a symposium in their honor. A very fitting way to begin the auction of their collection - in the way they approached it themselves - as a journey of new discoveries. I asked to come down in December and investigate the objects in the way I had always wanted to do. You see, often you can understand a collector by the object. Some collect rare and perfect. Some collect a subject matter or want to have one of each. At times even, a collector is concentrating on American furniture and the embroidery is just there for the mood. There was something about the pieces and Anita's personality that really, really made me want to see them up close and inside. Like there was more than met the eye - just like how the word 'collectors' did not adequately describe Anita and Irvin - there was a reason for each piece to be selected for her collection that wouldn't be immediately apparent. Something secret or unique that she would have understood was different or important and most wouldn't have. Her level of scholarship was such that we never had enough time to explore her objects together because there were just so many of them and looking at one object took forever because she wanted to explore it to all it would share. The one casket we took off the shelf and looked at together was far more interesting inside than outward appearance and I had a strong feeling that would be the case for more of her pieces.
As I opened casket after casket that day - I 'found' Anita inside them. It was like talking to her. When I ran to the train, I had to share the day with the friend who had introduced us. It took her days to write back as it made her cry. It made me cry too for the lost opportunity to enjoy the experience with Anita herself. She would have just LOVED the Cabinet of Curiosities course and would have been jotting down notes and sending them to me with her thoughts born of decades of study of the period. She would have delighted in every discussion of bottle sizes, marks on the bottoms of the sander, and what kind of paper was used. Her legacy goes on now as her pieces have shared after she is gone.
Sotheby's has graciously allowed me to share some of the pictures I took that day in the blog - as Anita would have done so if she was there. As I am now working on my presentation, I will also take some time to show you what she must have loved about some of her pieces.
If you have the time or opportunity to be in NYC during the exhibition days - give yourself the extreme pleasure of seeing their collection together for the last time and look at the six caskets and more than a dozen other 17th century embroideries. Samplers, mourning embroideries, mirrors and a christening basket, sweet bag, embroidered book... it goes on. All with the paintings, furniture, and other objects that a couple who shared a deep love of history and scholarship and each other chose to live with together. If you are too far away, brew a cup of tea and enjoy the catalog online - please read the essay on Anita and Irvin first and then look at the picture on page 6. You simply must know the people behind the objects so you can understand.